If there’s anyone who has the credibility to talk about what goes into being a successful producer/engineer or building a great studio, it’s Recording Connection mentor Mike Landau.
On his watch, the studio he co-founded, Phat Buddha Productions in St. Louis, MO, has grown and expanded to become St. Louis’ premier “go-to” recording studio, servicing major label clients such as Ludacris, Waka Flocka, Lil Wayne, Panic! at the Disco, Sade, Wale, Black Eyed Peas and many others. In a recent conversation with us, Mike shared some nuggets of wisdom as to what he looks for in his apprentices, how he gets them involved in the studio, and most importantly, what he believes are the three keys to succeeding in this business. We’ve shared the best excerpts of this conversation with you below.
MIKE’S FEELINGS ABOUT THE MENTOR-APPRENTICE APPROACH, AND HOW IT PLAYS OUT IN HIS STUDIO:
“We definitely enjoy it… Our goal is to really develop professional engineers. And that’s more than just cleaning up around the studio. That’s, ‘Okay, let’s start burning out a track, let’s start burning out a mix”–basic things. I might have an in-house project like a commercial that I might want to blow, just blast throughout the Internet. Well, that’s a great project for somebody who’s just starting out. And I can give him a bunch of content and let him edit it together and develop a piece that we can use. That’s just an example of something that we would try and throw on these guys to get them on the gear, really utilizing what they’re learning in a real-world situation, and then actually seeing it being utilized. And then all the way up to, ‘Okay, this guy knows how to track drums now. Okay, go mic that drum kit,’…Sometimes it’s challenging, but at the end of the day it’s worth it, you know?”
ON WHAT HE LOOKS FOR IN AN APPRENTICE:
Studio A in Phat Buddha Productions
“Obviously some of the normal things: intelligence, drive, and all of that good stuff. But I’d say the most important thing, really, is just to really have that passion. The ones who make it really exhibit that willingness to spend extra time in the studio, to go above and beyond what’s asked of them, just do things that they see need to be done, and having that intuition. So that’s sort of what we’re looking for. We’re looking for people that we can turn into professional engineers.”
ON THE OPPORTUNITIES AVAILABLE TO APPRENTICES WHO ARE WILLING TO PUT IN THE EFFORT:
“We have an open door policy here [in the studio]. So if you’re a student, you’re welcome to be here as long as you maintain proper studio etiquette and all of that good stuff. You’re welcome to be here as long as you want, whenever you want.”
ON THE KIND OF PROJECTS THAT COME THROUGH THE STUDIO:
“We do everything, you know…We’ve done audio for business. We’ve done cleanup for lawyers. We’ve done bands that have never been in the studio. We do all the top local acts. We do national acts. We just had, not too long ago, Lil Wayne was in the studio…We have a lot of national talent that comes through, a lot of hip-hop, a lot of rock. Eighty percent of what we do here is hip-hop and R&B just because that’s what the market dictates, but if there is a national artist that’s coming through Saint Louis, we’re pretty much the first one they’re gonna call… From Panic! at the Disco, to Travis Barker, to the Black Eyed Peas, to Rick Ross, to Sade, to Chuck Berry, so quite an extensive list of clients, and you never know what’s gonna happen on what day. That’s part of the excitement of working in this business.”
ON THE DEFINING MOMENT WHEN PHAT BUDDHA PRODUCTIONS BEGAN EXPANDING TO HANDLE NATIONAL CLIENTS:
will.i.am, Mike Landau, Stevie Stone and Jaden Smith at Phat Buddha Productions
“For the studio, I would say when Nelly first came in, when that happened, it sort of really opened the eyes of some of the labels around town. And, there was a lot of energy in town at that time also because of Nelly…That sort of opened the doors, and at that point we realized, ‘Hey, we’re developing these connections with the major labels. Starting to really understand how the game works. And, yeah, we can do this. We can do this on a major, major level.’..That’s when we decided, “Okay, let’s expand. Let’s build this other, our studio A. And let’s buy this console. And let’s get a real analog console in here and build a world class suite.’ And that’s what we did.”
ON WHAT IS INVOLVED WITH BUILDING A SUCCESSFUL STUDIO:
“There’s a lot that goes into it, you know. It’s like, there’s many spokes to the wheel. One spoke, of course, is taking a risk. Another spoke is gonna be your drive and sacrificing and a lot of other things to focus on this and push it forward. And another spoke would be, who you know, networking, connections.”
ON WHAT HE TEACHES HIS STUDENTS IN ORDER TO BECOME SUCCESSFUL:
Studio B in Phat Buddha Productions
“There are three parts to really being a successful engineer. The first is obviously, understanding the technology…Go home, get on your Pro Tools system. Come here [to the studio], get on the Pro Tools system. Push yourself. Don’t just do what’s within the lesson. Go beyond that.
“The second is really understanding the social aspect of how to communicate with a client, how to bring out the best performance of the client. That has nothing to do with technology: that has everything to do with you as person, you being able to connect with the client, making them feel comfortable in the environment and bringing out the best performance in them.
“And then thirdly is the business aspect of it. Picking up on the business, being a businessman. Go get a business card, maybe even write a business plan for yourself as an independent engineer. Go to clubs. Go to bars. Don’t get drunk. Hand out your business card. Do business things where you develop clientele, where these people start to know who you are, where you’re working at, what your skill sets are. That’s so important. A lot of people just think, ‘Oh, man, all I need to do is have a good year and learn the technology.’ No, there’s much more to it than that. And so, that’s what I tell them: [If] you want to be successful, you need to learn these three components. You need to focus on these three components, and really throw away everything else in your life in the next year and a half if you’re serious about it.”